Boston, MA

Contact Name
Lori Lobenstine
Project Dates
July 2012--Dec 2013
Tags
Event, Design, Business Planning, Networking
Upham’s Corner ArtPlace (UCAP) aims to deeply involve Upham’s Corner residents, merchants and artists in creative placemaking. Upham’s Corner ArtPlace is a pilot project that complements City-led planning efforts along the Fairmount Indigo Line and ensures the corridor expresses the cultural identity of its neighborhoods. With a broad cross-section of local partnerships and community engagement, UCAP will involve the Upham’s community in mapping cultural assets/traditions and elevating them through public art, street performances, and craft/food markets. Local businesses and artists will work with Upham’s Corner Main Streets to coordinate temporary use of vacant storefronts through “pop-up” exhibits and businesses that complement cultural events.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
Broadly we want to advance a vision for the Fairmount Indigo Line as a cultural corridor that draws upon the local cultural assets and ethnic traditions of the Corridor’s residents, through an Upham’s Corner pilot that will encourage cultural economic activity through placemaking interventions such as interactive installations, outdoor markets, and complementary business activity in and around the historic Strand Theater and the Upham’s Corner train stop. Our aim is for creative placemaking that is rooted in Upham’s Corner’s history and diversity. We believe that deep local resident and business engagement is critical to ensuring collective ownership, the hallmark of any sustainable, long term change.

Specifically we want to:
• Ensure that arts and cultural programming in Upham’s Corner is designed and led by local artists, residents and merchants
• Use art to engage residents in imagining new possibilities for underutilized indoor and outdoor spaces (exs?)
• Increase culturally relevant performances at the Strand Theater
• Create culturally relevant permanent art installations to enhance public interest in the arts
• Inform and engage community in neighborhood revitalization planning processes
• Support local artists in showcasing their work, including an Open Market, shows in vacant storefronts and technical support for business development
• Evaluate and document best practices in using arts to build neighborhood vibrancy
Have they changed over time?
Our project is still in its early phases, so there haven’t been a ton of changes yet. However, as our resident leadership team takes ownership of the project, we anticipate that they will offer some new goals and push back on some existing ones. That said, in meetings with residents, artists and merchants, we’ve found tremendous interest in our overall goals, especially focused on The Strand and on using available open spaces and storefronts to support and highlight local artists.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
UCAP has a broad cross-section of partners, and this is no coincidence. We believe that long term success will be based on the partnerships that grow or deepen through this process, whether they’re partnerships between local artists and businesses, between businesses and nonprofits, or between the city and local planning efforts. Some of the key partners are:

Lead Agency:
The Boston Foundation

Public Agency Partners:
• Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA): coordination with Fairmount Master Plan
• City of Boston – Department of Neighborhood Development (DND): coordination with Upham’s Corner Main Streets and local businesses
• Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events (MOATSE): coordination of performances at the Strand

Community Partners:
• Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI): resident engagement
• Fairmount Greenway Collaborative: resident engagement
• Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation: resident engagement
• Upham’s Corner Main Street (UCMS): business engagement
• ArtMorpheus: technical support for local artists

Programming Partners:
• Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre: dance programmer
• Berklee College of Music: music programmer
• University of Massachusetts Boston Trotter Institute: theater programmer
• Design Studio for Social Intervention: exhibit programmer

Our primary stakeholders include the diverse population of the Upham’s Corner neighborhood, including artists, merchants, elderly, youth, immigrants, etc. If UCAP doesn’t succeed in engaging these stakeholders at a high level, the community will not have their say in the development going on around them. Deep local resident and business engagement is critical to ensuring collective ownership, the hallmark of any sustainable change. With our commitment to creating a strong community foundation, we hope to ensure that a lot of the programming, awareness, and energy extends well beyond the ArtPlace grant period and becomes a core element of sustainable, community-centered development in Upham’s Corner.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
UCAP has leaned on its community partners to lead a multi-armed project. For example, DSNI has used its long term relationships with the community to engage residents in both the larger Fairmount Indigo Line planning process and the more specific resident-led Upham’s Corner creative placemaking process. UCMS has likewise used its rich relationships with large and small local businesses to not just engage business owners in the planning processes but to be able to offer open storefronts for pop-up exhibits or to highlight local restaurants through events. DS4SI has used its relationships with area artists and designers to create spaces that engage residents in new ways of thinking about their community, planning, gentrification and more.

More specifically, we are:
• Using design to engage residents, artists and merchants in imagining new possibilities for their community through interactive installations like Public Kitchen, Tactical Urban Labs and Making Planning Processes Public
• Bringing residents, artists and merchants together to guide the creative placemaking process and prioritize efforts of the UCAP partners
• Partnering with city-led efforts of the larger Fairmount Indigo Line planning process and city-led efforts for programming The Strand
• Highlighting existing arts programming, including Strand performances, DSNI’s Multicultural Arts Festival, and Dorchester Open Studios
• Working with local artists and ArtMorpheus to support local artists interested in building or growing their arts-based businesses
Have they been refined over time?
Our project plan has not changed a great deal over time, although we’ve been flexible to take advantage of opportunities that we didn’t foresee. We also took time to refine and clarify the roles of each of the project partners, so that we could be transparent and effective as we develop our formal resident leadership team.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
One on-going obstacle is finding balance between multiple pressures, processes and partners. For example, finding the balance between taking the time needed to nurture cross-sector relationships and build community voice with the pressures (from funders, residents, and partners) to see concrete results rather quickly. In our mind, the time taken to build community voice and partnerships is critical if we are to succeed at another major challenge: supporting arts-led economic development without setting Upham’s Corner up for gentrification.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
So far we feel the following pre-conditions have helped us succeed:
• Our partners are committed to the importance of taking the time to seed and cross-fertilize relationships “on the ground” and to following the leads of local residents, artists and merchants.
• Many of our partners have long histories of working in the Upham’s Corner neighborhood, so we began the process with many deep personal relationships, trust and willingness to work together.
• The diversity of our partners has meant that we have been able to quickly engage many different elements of the Upham’s Corner community (youth, artists, residents, merchants, policy makers, etc).
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
• Do not underestimate the time it takes to build community leadership and nurture relationship across sectors. It took us longer than we expected, even though we started with partners who had long histories working in the area.
• Engage artists at every level. It’s not just about performances or signage, but about how they look at things. An artist will bring a different sensibility to meeting facilitation, city-planning, relationship-building, etc.
• Be as transparent as possible. We find it important to be transparent with partners and residents about what’s “on the table” versus what limitations and commitments we have due to our funding for this project. Likewise, it’s important to be clear about what money is or isn’t available to support the work on the ground as we move forward.
• Look for connections. Since we began our project, we’ve had people reach out who are excited about how our work links with theirs. Whether it’s a real estate developer who wants to open a dance studio in Upham’s Corner or a local charter school which is interested in arts programming, we try to broaden our ideas and build momentum for creative placemaking whenever possible.

We recognize that is four. We're learning a lot!
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
Creative community building takes many forms, but one unusual element we’d like to highlight here is our interactive “pop-up” exhibits that help engage a wide cross-section of residents, artists and merchants in imagining new possibilities for their neighborhood. For example, this Fall UCAP partner DS4SI hosted a 10-day “Public Kitchen” in Upham’s Corner. The main hub of the Public Kitchen was in the UCMS office in the heart of Upham’s with events stretching down Dudley Street to the DSNI Greenhouse and farmers market. Inspired by the family kitchen as a gathering place, Public Kitchen invited Upham's Corner and Dudley Street residents to feast, learn, share, imagine, unite and claim public space. Over 500 people joined us as the Public Kitchen launched a week of fresh food, cooking classes & competitions, a mobile kitchen and Hub, food-inspired art and much more. Many residents marveled at how food brought them together with neighbors or nearby business owners who they’d never met or spoken to. Building on this success, DS4SI’s next interactive pop-up exhibit will focus on making planning processes public and accessible to Upham’s Corner residents, artists and merchants.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We cannot yet say we’ve achieved our goals, but it’s exciting to see how we’ve moved forward on each one. Creative community building efforts have helped rev up interest in the project, and we’ve committed to integrating a creative approach to each of our efforts. Some examples of this are:

• We are hoping to have our upcoming UCAP kick-off in conjunction with a free Boston Ballet performance at The Strand. As a lively demonstration of what’s possible, the Kick Off will feature a new food truck by a local merchant, a youth performance from a local youth program, a table to connect local artists with technical assistance for business development, and an open invitation for folks to get involved in UCAP. In this way we hope to both help drive attendance to the show and engage residents in thinking about the kinds of opportunities they’d like to grow in Upham’s Corner
• February will also feature the next step of the Fairmount Indigo Line planning process, and UCAP partners are helping design a creative process that will let residents weigh in using creative tools like text messaging, chalk and more
• Through each of our events—from the Public Kitchen to our open community meetings—we are building resident awareness of the project and ability to impact the planning and community development going on around them.
Were there unexpected impacts?
One thing that has surprised us so far is how much hunger and momentum there is for creative placemaking. Each time we’ve put something out into the community, we’ve been amazed at the scale and diversity of the turnout and at the way folks jump into building relationships and wanting to move things forward. For example, the mobile kitchen that we built for Public Kitchen events has already been borrowed five times for other local community events; the first community meeting that we had overflowed out of the UCMS office with over 50 participants—the week before Christmas; and over 450 community members attended The Nutcracker at The Strand through the growing relationship between the Jose Mateo Ballet Theater and DSNI, who were able to offer free tickets to community residents.